Posts tagged ‘education’

Re-Thinking Representation: Applying Paulo Freire’s Ideas to Memorials

Detail of Ida Wells-Barnett plaque, Extra Mile: Points of Light Volunteer Pathway, Washington, D.C.

Detail of Ida Wells-Barnett plaque, Extra Mile: Points of Light Volunteer Pathway, Washington, D.C. Photo by author, 2010.

Lately I’ve been considering how Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed* can help me to study memorials.  The book isn’t about visual representation and it isn’t a typical source for art historians.  However, it is prominent in educational literature and many of the author’s thoughts apply to the contentious world of visual culture.  Freire (1921-1997), a Brazilian educator, argued that a restructured educational system rooted in collaboration, critical reflection paired with organized action, and real-world issues could empower people to fight social oppression.

Of his many important ideas, his perspectives about research have strengthened my interests in inclusive, participatory approaches.  Similar to his suggestion that teachers and students work in a dualistic manner (both groups instruct and learn as they critically assess problems), Freire proposes that researchers work as partners with people “who would normally be considered objects of that investigation.” (87)  He identifies these people as co-investigators and suggests that the researcher include their views in the evaluation process.  For Freire and sociologist Maria Edy Ferreira, the purpose of the research shouldn’t center on studying people.  Instead, researchers should seek to understand people’s situation or experiences in the world. (91)  To conduct research cooperatively, Freire encourages researchers to focus on understanding through sympathetic observation.  This approach forgoes dictating to the participants.

As I discussed in my previous post “Learning through Participation,” I employ collaborative, socially based methods for my study of lynching memorials.  One of my main challenges involves addressing current criticisms of therapeutic memorials (“victim memorials”).  In addition to considering the role of sentimentalization and art historian Kirk Savage’s useful historical discussion of “victim memorials,”* I believe Freire’s work will help me to reveal the political dimensions.  His attention to how oppressed groups can work together to improve their condition will help me to dismantle censures such as “Why are these people getting a monument? Why is their pain more important than the pain of someone else?”  Freire’s arguments could help to enrich memorial scholarship by identifying the assumptions of these perspectives.


*Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, London: Penguin Books, 1993, 1970.
*Kirk Savage, Monument Wars: Washington, D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape, Berkeley, CA: University of California, 236-244.

August 31, 2013 at 10:04 pm Leave a comment

Pinning My Inquietudes/Hopes for Art History

Lately I’ve been revising my Pinterest boards so that they engage key concerns I have about art history. Pinterest boards-May 2013I began using Pinterest, an online customizable set of bulletin boards, last summer when I taught History of Photography.  The boards for arth318snapshot served as a resource for my undergraduate students and broader publics.  I later started my own artstuffmatters‘ set of boards. Initially it focused mainly on books about various subject areas.  I didn’t really do much with it.  However, I recently had a “eureka moment” that sparked a different, more passionate direction.

Last fall at the Imagining America October 2012 conference, I heard a presentation that continues to inspire and challenge me.  Dr. Marta Vega, Executive Director and Founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center and African Diaspora Institute, centered her address on “inquietudes,” things that make one feel ill at ease, in relationships between academia and the wider world.  She argued that many academics don’t engage community organizations as partners or as higher education institutions.  Because they don’t value the knowledge and experience of these agencies, these scholars can’t actually engage most people.  She urged the scholarly sphere to recognize that it is a part of community instead of promoting hierarchical behaviors.  If we are serious about civic engagement and creating enduring social change, we need to foster connections between people. We need to make our arts centers inclusive.

These ideas resonated for me because in my work as a graduate student I sometimes feel apprehensive about scholarly research, dissemination methods, and traditional constructions of the discipline. One of my major inquietudes involves issues of inclusion and diversity.  When I hear about diversity in art history, it’s usually in regards to museums careers. In the academic sphere most of this discussion involves courses in art of non-western cultures. While varied course offerings are very important, we need to make this strategy a part of a system that spans types of art, chronologies, and fields.  We need to consider full inclusion and diversity in relation to our research and pedagogical methods as well.  We should communicate this focus to our undergraduate and graduate students. (I have encountered more than one art history graduate student who mistakenly believes that diversity-related topics only pertain to modern and contemporary art. One person even told me that race is only a relevant topic for those who study African or African-American art.) Our lack of attention to community and vernacular arts compounds this problem. Additionally, we need to consider how we can encourage people of diverse races and ethnic backgrounds to study and teach art history.  The discipline sorely lacks diversity in terms of students and faculty members. Addressing these matters can help us to engage broader publics and demonstrate the significance of our discipline and the humanities.

I have created boards for topics I’d like to see more art historians critically engage – diversity, community arts, public scholarship, digital scholarship, teaching techniques, and image use among others. These boards contain links to resources that I would have loved to know about when I started graduate school. I hope students, instructors, and others interested in the arts find this collection helpful. If you have suggestions for the boards, please let me know through the comment feature here or on Pinterest. As I work to create positive change in the discipline, I’ll continue blogging about these inquietudes in future posts because this platform is one way to explore, expand, and celebrate my connection to community.

By the way: While I’m serious about a lot of things, I also have a sense of humor. My boards “Foot Fetish in Sculpture” and “Theory Can Be Fun” are works in progress just because they make me smile. Foot Fetish Sculpture

Related articles:

“Art History Department Explores Diversity, Accessibility” The Oberlin Review, 4/17/2013

May 30, 2013 at 2:42 am 2 comments

Lots to Say About Memorials?

Vietnam Veterans Memorial by Maya Lin, completed 1982, Washington, DC

This fall I’m starting a Memorials Discussion Group at the University of Delaware.
We’ll get together regularly to share ideas about the various aspects of memorials.  All types of commemorative structures and practices are possible subjects- sculpture, mural paintings, mosaics, quilts, parades, reading of names or statements, building plaques, photographs, and more.

So far I know we’ll have some graduate students and faculty members from the history and art history departments participating in the discussions. But we want more folks to join us to keep the conversations rich and interesting.

Sociologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, cultural geographers, conservators, artists, and everyone else who works (or has a strong interest) in memorial culture is welcome to join the group.

Meetings will be informal (no readings required!) and held in the University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware area.

If you’re in the Newark, DE area and love to talk about memorials, send me a note via the comments section.

June 12, 2010 at 9:07 am 1 comment

UW-Superior Symposium on Duluth Lynchings

This weekend, April 30, 2010 – May 1, 2010 University of Wisconsin-Superior will be addressing the 1920 Duluth, Minnesota lynchings in a symposium: “Ninety Years After the Lynchings in Duluth: Past, Present and Future Importance.”

For more information, see

Symposium Schedule

Session One: Introduction: 11 to 11:40 a.m.

“Forgiving the Unforgiveable”
Warren Read, author of “The Lyncher Within Me.”

Lunch Break: 11:40 to Noon

Session Two: Keynote Address: Noon to 12:50 p.m.

“A Life Informed by a Lynching”
Michael Fedo, author of “The Lynchings in Duluth”

Session Three: The Social Framing of the Lynchings: 1 to 2 p.m.

“The Lynchings in Duluth” Video Introduction
F. Barry Schreiber, Professor of Criminal Justice, St. Cloud State University

“Ethnicity, Class and the Lynchings in Duluth”
Dick Hudelson, Professor of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin-Superior

“Lynching in Duluth and Elsewhere”
Joel Sipress, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Superior

Session Four: Forgetting and Remembering: 2 to 3 p.m.

“Culture in Curriculum: Finding Every Child Special”
Joli Shamblott, the Organizing Committee

Questions and Answers on “The Klan in Minnesota”
Elizabeth Dorsey Hatle, co-author (Nancy M. Vaillancourt) of “The Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s”

“Moving Forward: The Past Does Not Have to Equal the Future”
Scott Nelson, University of Wisconsin-Superior and the Organizing Committee

“Constructing the Past to Prepare the Future”
Marshall Johnson, Professor of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Superior

April 30, 2010 at 4:31 pm Leave a comment


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